Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Trio of Quirky Little Movies

What makes a good movie?

Well, it has to have a good story that compels you to keep watching until the end. The choice of camera angle should be surprising but completely consistent with the story. The script and acting should feel natural and authentic. And the editing should not call attention to itself.

Sometimes a great movie is epic, such as Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Indiana Jones, Schindler's List. But sometimes it can be a quirky little picture. Here are three for your consideration:

Scotland, PA (2001)

This is a satire that retells Shakespeare's Macbeth, while satirizing fast food and suburbia. Joe and Pat McBeth work at Duncan's hamburgers joint in the small Pennsylvania town of Scotland, in the 1970's, They plot and carry out Duncan's murder and it looks like they will get away with it. That is until Christopher Walken, as police lieutenant Ernie McDuff starts investigating and brings a "Twin Peaks"-esque feel to the movie. He delivers his lines with his usual unconventional cadence and it's perfect here.

There are plenty of great lines - "We're not bad people, we're just underachievers that have to make up for lost time." and plenty of little jokes - Duncan, it seems, made a fortune by selling a chain of donut stores.

Strictly Ballroom (1993)

Before Baz Luhrmann produced Moulin Rouge and La Boheme, he wrote and directed this little gem. It spoofs the stuffy world of ballroom dancing in which two young competitors attempt to be spontaneous and improvise novel dance steps while being told by The Federation that "there are no new steps". There is a madness in most of the characters that only the dancing couple seem to notice. This is a charming tale of taking on the powers that be and winning on your own terms.

Kinky Boots (2005)

The crazy thing about this movie is that it is based on a true story. A young man with ambitions to shake the dust of a small town off his boots and move to the big city is forced to reconsider when his father, the third generation to run a traditional men's shoe factory, dies suddenly. Charlie, the son, comes back to town, only to discover the company is about to go under. He searches for a way to keep all the workers employed. Ah ha! He finds a new niche market: thigh-high boots with stiletto heels that will bear up under the weight of a man, for drag queens.

There is a transformation not just of the products the factory turns out, but of people's prejudices about each other, resulting in triumph all around.

For more movies that are out of the mainstream, see Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival.

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